ORGAN: Frieze week, Gina Birch at Whitechapel’s Gallery 46. There’s a feeling here that she’s experimenting, discovering, not so much finding her painterly voice but feeling she can start to visually shout…

Gina Birch, In My Fucking Room at Gallery 46 – It really isn’t important that Gina Birch has such an influential musical history, that her and her band are such an important cog in (post) punk’s colourful history. Her band, The Raincoats, were (and still are) one of the most significant of bands, obviously it is important, of course her past is, but her musical history isn’t the most important thing here. The important thing is that Gina Birch is very much a painter with a growing reputation and this show is very much now. This isn’t a case of some musician doing something on the side, this isn’t Bob Dylan dabbling or, heaven forbid, Ronnie bloody Wood, this isn’t a sideline or indeed just something for fans of her music, rather like Gallon Drunk’s James Johnston, Gina Birch is as much a painter as a musician now.

A significant solo show or paintings then, and the almost perfect space for it, the rooms of Whitechapel’s Gallery 46 really do lend themselves to the energy of these boldly energetic Gina Birch pieces. There’s a positive rawness here, a feeling of discovery both in terms of the viewer and the artist herself. There’s an attitude, her work does look and feel rather like The Raincoats sound and that urgent nail-on-the-head way they went about things but you probably don’t need to know a single thing about the music of her band to find more than enough in this show to leave you feeling positive about the art of the walls here.  Of course there are references to those things that have informed her music, she talks of her three main influences being “The Slits. Derek Jarman. Painting.”, and her band, like so many of that time, emerged via art school and all the possibilities that opened up in the mid 70’s (in a way that art schools just don’t any more) and of course these paintings are dripping in Raincoatness, how could they not be?  The point I’m trying to make here is that you don’t need to know anything about all that history, you could walk in here knowing absolutely nothing about Gina Birch other than that she’s an exciting painter, you could look at this body of work on the walls with no prior knowledge, this could very easily be your starting point, actually this would be a brilliant starting point, your entry to both her past and her future..

What we have in the rooms of Gallery 46 is a strong striking body of work, an evolving emerging body of work. There’s a feeling here that Gina Birch is experimenting, discovering, not so much finding her painterly voice but feeling she can start to visually shout, a feeling that yes, she is doing it in a (post) punk rock kind of way, that she’s not afraid of her brush or canvas, in the same way she never appeared to be afraid of a guitar, a microphone or a stage. Personally I’d argue that it really is a hell of a lot harder to stick a painting on a wall and especially a body of work as a solo show, than it is to stand of a stage as part of a gang or a band, they the whole process of painting and showing your work is a very private, very very personal, that it often is a very lonely one, that you’re there with all your doubts and your demons and however much your friends and colleges might support or compliment you. It is a massive thing to put paintings on a wall and say hey, look, look at me me me.

That the majority of these paintings are on the larger side adds to the power of what is here, that not everything works also kind of adds to the strength of it all, that creative risks have been taken, that she isn’t playing it safe here, she isn’t selling herself or anyone else short and without feeling the need to push anything at anyone, this is very much what you’d hope for (or even expect?) from a Gina Birch solo painting show – “I think once you discover feminism, it’s hard to put it back to bed. It’s like Sleeping Beauty: You wake up, and you can’t be put back down again.”. 

I love the mark making here, the charcoal and acrylic immediateness, and yes, as rude as it is to listen, I could hear her talking to someone and explaining she was too impatient for oil paint. I love her “mess” of charcoal and paint, the joy of paint, of texture, and yes some of this is looping back to earlier days, it does feels like as a painter she is very much right here and right now (and maybe I should shut up about wanting to see those wonderful shoe paintings of hers again). There is that every day magic that Jarman talked of, those fairytales from the supermarket or a cup of tea or a record player or watching a film, the freedom a squat (or the squat world) offered – see, I am harking back to what I already know from Raincoats encounters, from encounters with the world she came from, experience we probably both shared, it really is hard not to. I like the hints of tales that are being told here.

I like the hints here, I like the layers, the paint that might peel off later, I like the painting over there that didn’t quite fit the canvas she had so she painted it anyway with a black panel at the bottom for the bit of canvas she didn’t need – you can’t do that! Why not? I like that she couldn’t wait to get the right size canvas, I like that urgency.

This show is her past and her present both at the same time, but it also feels like things to come, like she’s currently on a creative roll, that there’s more for both her and us to discover. The room itself, the fucking room and the painting on the radiator and the cigarette ends, that feels like the artist looking back, it felt like the least interesting o the rooms that make up this gallery. And that big angel, is that an attempt to paint something “nice ” I wonder? I like that not everything is obvious and that not everything works, that’s kind of why it all works so well. I love her reds, I love her movement, I love her lines, I love the commitment. I’ve seen a lot of art during this busy Frieze Week, I see a lot of art most weeks,  I’ve been to quite a few underwhelming (dare I say boring?) art exhibitions in the last couple of weeks, I was kind of expecting this one to be good, I avoided what was no doubt a packed Friday night opening and could’nt wait for the gallery to open on the Saturday, I felt exciting. Gina Birch didn’t disappoint. (sw)  

Gallery 46 is found at 46 Ashfield Street, Whitechapel, London E1.  The show is open now and runs until November 3rd, the gallery is open 1pm until 6pm, Tuesday through to Sunday. Gina Birch on instagram

Do as always, clcik on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured slide show.

3 thoughts on “ORGAN: Frieze week, Gina Birch at Whitechapel’s Gallery 46. There’s a feeling here that she’s experimenting, discovering, not so much finding her painterly voice but feeling she can start to visually shout…

  1. Pingback: ORGAN: Frieze Week, the obligatory top ten list – Jeffrey Gibson, Jadé Fadojutimi’s seven paintings, Ken Currie at Flowers, Gina Birch, Caroline Coon, Lee Maelzer’s beds, Selome Muleta, Emma Amos, that DIS bench, Madeleine Strindberg

  2. Pingback: ORGAN: Frieze Week, the obligatory top ten list – Jeffrey Gibson, Jadé Fadojutimi’s seven paintings, Ken Currie at Flowers, Gina Birch, Caroline Coon, Lee Maelzer’s beds, Selome Muleta, Emma Amos, that DIS bench, Madeleine Strindberg

  3. Pingback: ORGAN: Frieze Week, the obligatory top ten list – Jeffrey Gibson, Jadé Fadojutimi’s seven paintings, Ken Currie at Flowers, Gina Birch, Caroline Coon, Lee Maelzer’s beds, Selome Muleta, Emma Amos, that DIS bench, Madeleine Strindberg

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